Follow the Unsung L&D Heroes

I was travelling for a while in Central America and my iPhone frequently moved in-between dead zones. This made for long hours of silence and then a flurry of buzzes when we reached a town. Sure, I could have probably disconnected but that’s never been my style. I also liked the false sense of IT security while I avoided monkey poop and tarantulas (no exaggeration: howler monkeys do indeed throw their excrement at people who get too close. I stayed away).

Around Day 2, most people had already gotten my out of office notification and so my feed was distilled down into LinkedIn notifications, email newsletters I subscribe to, and my parents on WhatsApp. For the latter, this was usually my mother asking if I was okay, did I like this Ikea lamp (link to catalogue page), and my absolute favourite: my daily reminder that it is officially mojito o'clock. If you do not have a Polish mother, you have not lived. I digress…

Looking carefully at my inbox, it occurred to me that I get a lot of L&D noise email. This is not a surprise. There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in this space and I get stoked when I see provocative content. Few people are happy with their LMS and are finally starting to voice their frustrations (YAY!). People are questioning much of the junk science we were fed about theories like learning styles and interactivity (WOOT!). These are all good and valuable discussion to be had. It can, however, be hard to pick out the premium rum from all of the bottles on the shelf (insert mother mojito homage).

An interesting secret I discovered about our industry is that there are a remarkable number of senior leaders who are not actually L&D professionals. They are people who excel in a particular industry who then decided that they have a “passion for learning”. This is noble, but does not always mean the best voice in the crowd. Sometimes, they start bubbling to the top of your threads because they are really good at social media, or they have content marketing bench strength behind them. For an interesting take on this topic, see this brilliant post by Alan Walker. Anyone can call themselves a guru.

I am honestly not having a go at these folks. They spark conversation. A lot of great companies out there have solid ideas and products. They must push digital content from their marketing engine to build communities and sales, or wither on the vine. It is the cycle: resident thought-leader pens an article, marketing creates a campaign, they rally their advocates to love bomb with retweets, shares, and likes, and repeat. It works.

Additionally, there is likely a debate on what really constitutes a learning professional. Is it someone who has a Masters in Adult Ed? Full disclosure: I don’t. My only claim to fame is starting as an ID and hustling my way along. It keeps me fed and watered, but it is not traditional. This is a topic for another blog post.

My point is: as I sift through the emails, tweets, and posts swirling around me, what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle are the unsung voices that have the x-factor; a savvy combination of hard-earned experience, technical acumen, and usually some other random interest or skill that augments their mindset.

These are the people to pay attention to. They may not be bloggers, or eloquent (some are). They may not use twitter or post frequently (some do). Their feeds, however, are a stethoscope on what any strategic L&D person should be paying attention to.

Disclosure: No one on this list solicited an endorsement or recommendation. This post was inspired by a colleague who asked for a Top 5 LinkedIn People to Follow (thank you Josh Cardoz – he is hella smart – check him out). All of the people were selected based on my own opinion and because they do not post Zig Ziglar quotes. If anyone wishes to be removed, drop me a line at my blog.

Here's my list, in no particular order with links to profiles:

Quick note, the other quick way I whittled down my inbox is to dump any email newsletters that are not mobile enabled. You simply cannot be serious about invites to webinars on digital disruption if you picked a marketing automation engine that does not render on my iPhone. *raises mojito glass*

Play safe in the traffic, kids!


Learning From Monkey Business

In the immortal words of Prince, “Dig, if you will, a picture…”:

Company ABC is introducing a new CRM solution and migrating from Outlook to Slack. Bonus points: they have dismantled their entire L&D team. Not one piece of internally developed learning content, SME blessed, and wrapped in shiny SCORM foil, will sit on the LMS. There will be no classroom event and you can forget about that continental breakfast. Employees will receive a few communications about the change and the following Monday, arrive to a new desktop.

Some experiments are cruel. Case in point: Harlow’s Rhesus monkey case study. In case you missed it, baby monkeys were separated from their mothers and given wire or cloth pseudo-mothers so psychologists could learn about attachment. Yay science! Not so good for the baby monkeys.

Few, if any, would be willing to take on the Company ABC experiment, which is sad. It is an interesting scenario to postulate upon, especially on a snowy afternoon like today.

If we delivered no support tools, infographics, or job aids, what would be the outcome on an audience? Would there be shrieking and poop throwing, or would teams learn to adapt, eventually settling back into banana eating and grooming?

This is what I think would happen:

Yes, there would be initial uncertainty; likely complaining and a loss of productivity for a spell. Eventually, there would be adaptation. Sales staff hungry to close deals would team up to figure out the CRM through trial and error. They would ferret out job aids and tools on the CRM product website, and join online forums to ask questions to other users. As for Slack, there is a short tutorial from the developers, plus a Slackbot to answer questions. As incredible as it sounds, users just might figure it out. Dare I say, they would *gasp* learn. And they would do it without our efforts.

One of the most common complaints I hear from L&D professionals is that learning is always consulted too late. By the time a project team thinks about training, the timeframe to design, develop, and deploy, is too short. Or is it? Nature abhors a vacuum and the more projects I oversee I have discovered that L&D people love to fill space. Without supervision, we happily performance consult, document performance outcomes, write learning objectives, draft storyboards, three rounds of SME feedback, Alpha and Beta testing, and do not forget Kirkpatrick levels 1-4. Cue the dopamine rush!

For those who follow my posts (thank you!) know I have been on this soapbox for a while. Interestingly enough, my last article, “Dear ADDIE, it’s not me, it’s you” actually generated some LinkedIn hate mail. I was in equal parts, both horrified and impressed. There were also a large number of people who are ready to move to more agile models, which was inspiring. (As for ADDIE, I quote Taylor Swift: “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together”).

It is not so much about challenging the status quo, but it is about thinking hard about what a learning experience is. Do we need to architect every bit of the 70:20:10? (And yes, I have my skeptical thoughts on 70:20:10, but I will be quiet) Applying a new lens, I now view learning initiatives like big adult colouring books. The temptation for us to fill in every single space is great…cue dopamine rush #2. Maybe we leave some blanks for learners to colour in.

Consider the course navigation page. We used to build these when eLearning was still new to our audiences. It supposedly reduced stress within the learning environment. That was ten years ago and some courses still have this page and they do our learners a disservice. First of all, if your design is not intuitive, that is to your shame. Secondly, spoon feeding navigation does not allow for the natural increase of digital literacy and competency that comes from exploration and doing (remember that 70%?).

Take a long look at your learning objectives and consider: what pieces of content design fall into the “obvious” category? Detailed job aids on technology platforms may ensure every eventual question is covered. They might also result in over-reliance on the tools instead of being learning to be self-sufficient at problem-solving within the application. It is the proverbial, give a man fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life.

Once you have filtered out this “obvious” content, what can you embed to increase or enhance other competencies on top of the set learning objectives? This is the “team a man to fish”, or what I like to call, the 2-for-1 special. A course about effective sales conversations could also increase mobile learning literacy. Likewise, a module about agile project management might also sharpen triangulation of data skills.

There is a lot of talk about whether we are seeing the death of the instructional designer. I think we are seeing the cannibalization of L&D. There are so many ways we need to evolve, but stall. It is not enough to simply be faster, we need to develop smarter. At the start of your next project, instead of performance consulting (which is valuable), ask one simple question: “What would happen if there was no learning?”. Work backwards, and ruthlessly, to build your framework. Streamline your design to give your learners opportunities to stretch.

Thinking back to Harlow’s poor experiment, maybe the baby rhesus monkey is actually, well, us. We are the wide-eyed, panicked stricken ones clinging to the cloth of ADDIE, or the artificial wire frame of learning styles (which are total BS). That position is una-peel-ing (my bad banana pun).

On The LMS Campaign Trail

No, this is not a post about politics. When I see political debates on LinkedIn, I’m quick to unfollow. For me, those very important discussions (and they are important) belong on Facebook and other outlets. Of course, I also unfollow anyone who posts Zig Ziglar quotes, which to me sound like, “Do not question whether you are the humble bologna or noble turkey breast – just know you are part of an bigger sandwich, blah, blah, blah”.

No matter who you voted for or support (again, no debates in the comments section, s’il vous plait) what can be said is many insights about online behaviour and engagement were demonstrated during the run-up to the election. Mainly, that there were many who were surprised by the presidential win based on what they were seeing on their social media feeds. People had created their own filter bubbles to serve up to them a world of opinions that matched their own values.

I am 100% guilty of this. In addition to my annoyance with Zig Ziglar, the other posts I ferociously weed out on LinkedIn are:   

  • My son/daughter is graduating this year and is looking for opportunities; Do your kid a favour and help them build their own LI profile and network, then I will happily engage
  • Anyone posting about Learning Styles and MBTI; you make me itchy
  • Real Estate agents stalking me; I’m not selling my house and you are creepy

But this is not a post about LinkedIn grievances and politics. Rather, this has me thinking a lot about how we push content to our audiences and the complex and nuanced relationships that exist online.

Part of my Predictions for 2017 in L&D was the death of the traditional LMS. I quickly learned that this was a provocative statement, but I still stand by it. While LMSs are improving, the majority of the big players are simply not evolving fast enough. More importantly, as learners naturally gravitate to their own fields of beliefs, it is important that we begin to understand how these arenas of influence operate.

Some LMSs are embracing the social. There are portals, communities, shares and likes, to entice the learner into engaging with content. This is a far cry from the graphic-free, non-HTML automated generic email, from the monolithic LMS, advising that Employee # 83H627 (FYI: that’s you) is overdue on their Code of Conduct training #bigbrother.

Likewise, other content providers curate daily feeds to their audiences, based on algorithms of their likes and previously viewed learning. This interests me because I am all about using data to make informed design decisions. If we do not seek the insights based on our learners’ digital body language, then we are wasting our time (shameless plug: here’s the free eBook).

While both social and curation are eons ahead of where we were, they have one fundamental flaw: the learner can make themselves cozy in their filtered bubble. This is great when the learner is keen on a topic. It does not function as well for a company undertaking a culture shift or transformation. Sure, you can force messages, but then you are back in Compliance Town, living on Lockstep Avenue.

What I would really like to see is an LMS with an embedded marketing automated engine. Yes, I know. L&D people hate the M-Word, but hear me out. Consider this standard scenario: To make a purchase or download a whitepaper, you provide your email address to a company. Behind the scenes you are segmented according to profile and are funneled into a text or email content campaign designed to spark interest and engagement with their offerings.

This campaign is not a linear path, but rather a flowchart of if/then actions to guide you towards a solution. Of course, parts of the campaign take into account your expressed preferences, while other parts of the campaign (and this is key) are curated to drip-feed content you may not have searched for on your own, or might not even be aware of.

I would love to do the same: build out a learning campaign based not only on algorithms for personalization and interests, but also a flowchart to insert content to meet performance outcomes; as in, the topics the learner might not naturally gravitate towards but are important to the business. I believe it is a way to socialise new concepts and continuously engage and challenge audiences. It also removes one from the filtered bubble.

Have a quick look at your LinkedIn Pulse. You are probably seeing content your connections liked, plus articles trending in your network, along with overall popular LinkedIn topics. A good benchmark in marketing is that a new concept has to be viewed 3-5 unique times before clicking. Single email notifications are not going to cut through the digital noise our learners receive. Learning campaigns are a way to craft that curiosity.

Another item on the wish list? An aggregate view of webs of influencers and connections on a social LMS platform, please. I want to understand how interwoven an audience is, who the trusted posters, and where are the outliers. Digital relationships are finicky. BS detectors are set to max because we lose the visual cues normally found in face-to-face conversations. This is why establishing trust and credibility are paramount. Previously, an email communication from the CEO was de rigueur.

For better or worse, you are more likely to pay attention to someone you have digital respect for rather than someone you have never had an online conversation or relationship with, regardless of the senior CEO title.

A better understanding of the landscape could mean increasing cross-pollination of silos and strengthening advocacy for a certain learning object.

Learning from past posts, let me be upfront and say that I am but a humble consultant and have no means to invest in an LMS. If you are in sales and your LMS has these functionalities, I would love to hear about them, but I am budget-poor. If you are an LMS, or even an LRS, vendor and think these are intriguing ideas to consider building, then you know where to find me.

Dear ADDIE: It's Not Me, It's You

It’s a brand new year: time for fresh starts and resolutions. Mine? I’m getting rid of the old. ADDIE, the time has come for you to know exactly where we stand. Yes, I see your blog posts. I know you have been on my social media feed. You struggle to get my attention in job postings and articles. Bluntly speaking, lose my number.

Sure, twenty or even five years ago, you were relevant: a cutesy little acronym that would unite all L&D professionals in a tidy process of Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Marching in mnemonic unison, we could build bountiful mountains of quality learning that are perfect in meeting business outcomes, and end with pristine Level 1-4 Kirkpatrick Evals. *sparkle*

These promises quickly fall flat. The more we try to shoehorn learning development into neat and well-groomed steps, the more time we waste waiting, documenting, and tracking. I know you want to argue that ADDIE is simply good project management, except it isn’t. It assumes there is always a straight path to solution. This does not allow for insights and innovation along the way.

Consider the following true story: Once upon a time, we were building a piece of e-Learning that happily started out with performance outcomes, learning objectives, high-level design, plus a storyboard. Although the dev team had been involved in all of the initial work, when presented with the storyboard, they felt that a vertical layout would be better than a horizontal one. They were right…except no one wanted to change the design. This would mean going back to change the previous project documentation and contacting SMEs. We stuck to “the plan”.

It cannot be ignored that ADDIE forces adherence to the gospel of documentation that was signed off weeks before development. Just like family road trips, it does not matter who is tired, bored, has to pee or barf. We are going to make it through Alpha, Beta, and Gold testing, and we will like it, damnit!

It begs the question: Why can’t graphic design work on an initial look and feel at the same time that IDs are drafting learning objectives? If these tasks are consecutive, graphic design is confined by the ID work. If they work collaboratively, you have a symbiotic relationship and better design thinking. It also pre-empts roadblocks.

It’s true that ADDIE was once helpful when teams worked in different ways. Today, any L&D department not using WOL or collaboration tools like Slack or Trello is doomed. How many hours are spent building status updates and emails to multiple people, dozens of times? One central project location and open-air virtual communication builds transparency. Everyone is one the same page.

Another pitfall: with ADDIE, Evaluation is a final step. I’ve said it before: when I go to the doctor, I want a diagnosis, not an autopsy. Waiting until the end of a deployment to evaluate gives no opportunity for course correction. If we truly want optimal design, evaluation must become an iterative part of development. Launch in sections and monitor usage and adoption. Then refine based on data tracking. Infinitely better than deploying a ton of content only to find out it stunk.

I’m certainly not the first one to think this way. For years, people have been ranting about ADDIE. The very, very, smart Tom Gram was writing about this conflict seven years ago. Yet, ADDIE persists in organisations as de rigeur. Sadly, often as a giant banner proclaiming that their thinking is a decade out of date. Now, I use an anti-ADDIE, pro-Agile opinion like a secret handshake; it tells me whether you “get it” or not.

So ADDIE, whilst I may have you listed under my skills and experience, there’s no future for us. As L&D shifts into a period of disruption and evolution, I cannot be held back. It’s not me, it’s you.


The Envelope Lesson

I didn't like high school. I skipped a lot of classes and when I did attend, I passed my days delivering a heavy dose of snark to a lot of poor teachers whom I sure only wanted to get to their next break. When I graduated, I slung my Doc Marten’s over my shoulder, and hit the road faster than you could say, “School’s out for ever” a la Alice Cooper.

The irony in all of this is that I did not hate learning. I always had my nose in a book and my Walkman on (pre-internet days, my darlings). What I despised about high school was the structure and forced delivery of content. Simply put, there was nothing that would get my ripped jeans twisted more than saying you “must do this”.

My eyes were opened when I became a high school teacher for a few years. It was then that I had empathy for all of the things that my teachers were forcing upon me. They had standardised tests, benchmarks, and learning objectives to achieve. I probably owe them a drink (or twelve). Although, I will say that teaching high school was the best job I ever had, hands down.

Now I work in L&D in the financial district of Toronto. En route to the office, I pass by multiple ATMs every day. This morning I was intrigued by two very different approaches to delivering the same messages:


I have blocked out the bank logos, although fellow Canucks might be able to identify the FI by colour palette (sorry). It is not my intent to name and shame anyone’s marketing department. I’m sure they did a lot of research and testing to come up with these ads. Still, messaging yields a visceral reaction and these caught my eye.

Both signs convey the exact same message: envelopes are no longer required to make deposits at these bank machines. Whilst “Envelope-Free” implies a value-add; “Envelopes not accepted at this ATM” is reminiscent of the TSA announcements regarding liquid restrictions – no warm and fuzzies here.  One is inviting, the other punitive.

So what does all of this rambling about high school and bank machines mean? Well, nothing too earth-shattering other than, as usual, I believe that L&D needs to leave its precious ivory tower. In this case, it is time to use a design-centric approach to content that motivates, rather than dictates.

Consider the reams of compliance-based training L&D is forced to produce. I think most of us know the dirty little secret that none of this content is about delivering learning. It is a CYA exercise to ensure your company does not get caught in litigation: “Your honour, the employee did the mandatory seventeen hours of ethics training and passed all eight quizzes so we cannot be held liable for their subsequent acts of money laundering”. Ta-dah!

Psst…Another industry secret? Every time you lockstep a module, a puppy dies. #fact

What if we thought differently about the reams of compliance content we are required to produce? Thinking hard about those ATM signs I saw this morning, I want to be on the “Envelope-Free” side. Some initial concepts:

  • Reframing the regulatory content with impact statements that grab attention. This means less “thou shalt not” and more, “this is how society benefits when we follow these laws”
  • Storytelling. And no, I do not mean the ugly avatar, comic style, that comes with a dose of saccharine. I am talking about editorial-type narratives of people whose lives have been impacted by the regulations we are learning about
  • Less legalese, more writing like journalists. I get that our SMEs like the lawyer-speak because they think it affords them some protection. It’s a false sense of security because the average reader will not digest what they read, especially if they are ESL. Instead, write with clarity and intent

I doubt that L&D will ever get away from regulatory learning. It’s the birthplace of the horrid learning management systems and rapid authoring tools that we have now. Still, I think back to my cynical teenaged self and I do not think she is too far off from today’s jaded learner. She simply has more black eyeliner. In the digital age, your audience clicks X or opens another browser window the first nanosecond they are not engaged. They are impatient and have high expectations. If we have to build it, at least consider methods to entice rather than order. At the very least, use the exercise to flex your instructional design muscles.

And here's me at 14...


The Mythical Learning Wand

Years ago, a colleague with a wicked sense of humour brought me the best gift from Disneyland: a magic wand that sparkled and sang “bippity-boppity-bo” when you waved it in the air. In our jaded hands, it rapidly became the “Sacred Stick of Sarcasm” and was brought out whenever we got one of “those” requests.

You might be familiar with these types of projects. They usually involve someone, somewhere, trying to implement an asinine solution, and realising that they have no change management process in place, hop on over to L&D to glue it together on a wing and a prayer. Bonus points: they want an app.

Learning can do great things. Learning can do even more amazing things when it is partnered with other departments to deliver holistic and comprehensive change management initiatives. I love those. There are times, however, when no amount of learning intervention is going to yield desired outcomes.

Is it better to say no rather than invest in learning?

As an environmentally conscious person, I take public transit to work every day. I also cannot parallel park and I have the attention span of a gnat, so driving isn’t a viable option. This means that I rely on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to get me to and fro.

For those who have not been to Toronto, our transit is bad. I’ve traveled in India, I lived in Poland in the late 90s, and hands down, the TTC is the worst. There are a number of historical reasons, which are not relevant here. Basically, it is an aging system, prone to frequent service disruptions. It is also terrible at customer service. The latter is not a new trend. The TTC has been surly going on 40 years.

Cut to a bold, new CEO who is trying to modernise the system. In addition to carrying out much needed repairs and improving channels for rider feedback, he has decided to tackle the customer service issue. Currently, each station has a ticket collector who sits inside a Plexiglas booth and doles out tokens. Technically, they also provide directions and assistance, but it’s usually a grunt and a map since the microphones rarely work.

The new role of the ticket collectors is described as, “’multi-functional, highly skilled, and customer focused’ agents. Each CSA will be armed with a tablet computer loaded with tourist information and apps such as Google Translate, ready to attend to riders’ needs. When not helping customers, they will be tasked with inspecting stations, light cleaning work, and first-line maintenance”.

Oh yes, I can see the light at the end of this tunnel. And it is a Bombardier subway. In fact, it is a $2.5 million subway of five days of “world-class, experiential” training for about 400 agents and 60 supervisors.

Even with a robust post-training plan, ongoing coaching, and incentives, there is no way that even half of those agents are going to turn into bastions of customer service. If they even reach 25%, I will eat my Metropass.

A wise mentor once taught me a valuable lesson. I asked him why our building maintenance staff is so exceptionally friendly and eager to help. He showed me the “napkin test”. He walked into the atrium and casually dropped a napkin on the ground. The first person who passed it automatically picked it up. He dropped it a few more times and no matter the role or rank, the person who walked by picked up the napkin.

Yes, he was being a bit of a jerk but his closing point to me was, “all the courses in the world will not teach someone to do that when no one is watching”. He was right. Sure, we can teach employees the importance of taking responsibility for a clean office, but that does not necessarily translate back into a natural instinct to be proactive in every situation. Rather, the company hired for that trait, and created a positive environment to foster it.

Are there times when the chasms between motivation, skill, and expectations, are simply too great to conquer with any education? Yes. Yes, they are.

At the start of any major change initiative, a wise lesson would be to honestly look at the people on the team and have the transparent conversations to determine if the new direction is the right one for them. I’m not suggesting mass redundancies. If the transition is not a fit, spend less on trying to bash a square peg into a round hole through mandatory training. Instead, invest in helping employees find a role suited to their aspirations. The truth is, anyone not on the bus emotionally will eventually leave, or suck morale. Sure, you saved on packaging them out…but you wasted time, reputation, and L&D dollars.

Back to the TTC collectors: I am going to keep an eye out on this one. No, I do not think they are terrible people. They are simply dismal at customer service. The TTC would be wiser to mine their wider employee pool for natural customer service mindset, rather than expensive learning initiatives.

I miss my magic wand. Sadly, at a holiday party it was broken by some over-zealous waving and was damaged beyond repair. Perhaps this is fitting. L&D is not a cure all and it takes guts to say this. You might not be popular, but then again, fairy tales are not real

The Blair Witch Learning Project

I can tell October has started here in Toronto. The proliferation of Christmas decorations is creeping up slowly, like black mould, in the corners of the shopping malls in the city. Every year it feels earlier and I loathe it. I even forgo switching from my summertime iced morning coffee as long as possible, just so I can avoid the dreaded red cup at Starbucks. Last year, I made it until December 12th, or -7 degrees Celsius.

So let's forget about winter and focus on another upcoming holiday - Hallowe'en. I'm probably dating myself with this fact, but it has been 17 (gulp) years since the horror flick The Blair Witch Project was released. It was a film that turned this traditional genre completely upside-down. It featured three unknown actors and no script. Instead, the cast improvised over a week camping in the woods resulting in "found footage" that eventually became the movie (**Spoiler Alert**: They all die).

I'm not a savvy film aficionado. The last time I watched a complete movie in the theatre was well over a decade ago and my husband has threatened, on more than one occasion to get me a t-shirt that says, "The Book Was Better". Apparently, I have the attention span of a goldfish. Still, I've been to enough sleepovers as a teen to recognise the classic horror film trademarks: suspenseful music, dark shadows, and my favourite, the character that never seems to have enough brains to just get out of the house. #Lifehack: You’re alone and you suspect a stranger is in the house? Leave.

There is a formula to horror movies and when done well, works beautifully. When poorly executed, the results are cringeworthy, and make for hilarious viewing.  Case in point: Troll 2. Sadly, a lot of L&D folk love formulas and methodologies, which is not a bad thing if you are Alfred Hitchcock and know how to leverage them. If you are not, then life is a bit more challenging.

I place a high percentage of blame for the dirge of bad digital elearning out there square on the shoulders of (those-who-shall-not-be-named) rapid authoring tools (RATs). I get it; they make your life easier and you can produce content quickly and without requiring coding or even deep graphic design expertise. I have no objection to that. My problem is that these tools are putting the baseline design into a box – or in the spirit of Hallowe’en, a very confining and painful coffin.

I once experienced a learning department that relied on one, and only one, template for all elearning. The construct never varied from: learning objectives, definitions, content, example, interactivity, summary. All navigation was fixed as well. The rationale was that one “should not have to learn how to learn”. This is a curious slant given that this was a learner audience of highly-skilled professionals with a minimum of one post-secondary degree. If they are flummoxed by locating a Next Button, there are bigger issues. In the end, sure the elearning was consistent…consistently boring and ineffective. I also felt like Tippy Hendren in The Birds, swatting away templates and stock imagery, lest my eyes be pecked out.

Now I know there are a lot of proficient designers out there who can work magic with a RAT. You are the Spielbergs and Kubricks. In the average hands, however, these tools can wrong fast. For example, the out-of-the box design is a bog-standard page-turner. Contrast this with the fact that you are probably scrolling to read this article. While you can build a vertical design in a RAT, it is functionality that a designer would have to actively search for.

There’s more. A dirty little secret: all of those out-of-the-box interactivities? There’s surprisingly little concrete evidence that they actually contribute to learning retention. We throw in drag and drops at a rate of every four slides because the RAT enables us do it, and enablers are not good things. If you are skeptical, consider the fact that video is the fastest growing learning media. It is also the most passive.  Now if you want to get deep into the debate on learning styles, I’ll refer to you the brilliant comments thread on David Glow’s profile. Best read in a long time.

Back to The Blair Witch Project, what made it so effective is that it honoured the methodology of the horror genre, but was not confined by it. There are learning courses out there doing this, with Duolingo being one of my favourites. I have been using it daily to improve my Polish to text more with my family. On a side note, I keep getting sentences like, “Nie noszę koszulkę” which means, “I am not wearing a shirt”, and “moi mężczyźni mają wino” meaning, “my men have wine”. Apparently Duolingo thinks I’m doing more than texting when I’m in Poland…

The intriguing thing about Duolingo is that it does not teach grammar rules formally. Rather than long and complicated charts on adjective agreement or verb conjugation, you learn by doing. The app starts right away with basic communication and you are constructing sentences immediately, without any formal instruction. Basically, you learn language the way you would if you were immersed in it. The Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid is tipped over, and I love it.

Here’s a closing challenge: turn off the lights, pop some popcorn, curl up on the sofa, and dig into some of the elearning out there. Very rarely do we as learning professionals eat our own dog food. Prepare to be shocked, even frightened, but hopefully you also see some learning that gets your heart pounding. Then, next time you are designing, consider ways to make your content intriguing, without relying on clichés. Don’t make the next budget B-movie.


Twitter and Toddlers

There’s a lot of chasing of tails in the L&D conundrum of how to supply “just-in-time” learning solutions:  User-generated content, hurrah! Blogs and wikis and social, oh my! Embedded performance support tools, the more the merrier!

All of these start to feel like a never-ending loop where L&D tries to appease the learner like a parent treats an over-tired toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, “Stop screaming! Here’s the chocolate bar! Take this learning objective! Please don’t tell HR we aren’t relevant! *shakes baby rattle*”. Too often, it’s a spray and pray approach to content development.  There has to be a better solution.

There was a tragedy yesterday involving a train failing to brake whilst pulling into a station this morning. (I’m not mentioning the name of the city because I do not want this article to inadvertently pop-up for people searching for information. I will not capitalise on a terrible accident to drive blog traffic – that’s called being a jerk). As the events continue, my thoughts are with all those involved and I sincerely hope the injuries are few and not life-altering.

As with most mornings, I had my TweetDeck open. Around 8:15 AM I started to notice a few unusual trending hashtags. It was clear that there had been an accident, but details were uncertain. By 8:19AM a video shot by a bystander was tweeted:

This is where it gets interesting. Within a minute, there were scores of posts to the video poster; CNN, Boston Globe, BBC, etc. All of them asked if they could use the footage and/or interview the witness. Interestingly, only a couple (that I could see) actually asked if the poster was okay or safe, which was a nice and human touch. Generously, the poster agreed to all requests to air the video (and was unhurt, despite having been a passenger on the train).

Fast forward and here’s the front page of the digital version of the Toronto Star (a major newspaper in the city that I live in).

The posting time of this article about the accident is 11:09 AM – under three hours after the accident. Personally, I have yet to see that time record broken by any L&D department producing content. This begs the question: is it possible?

When producing highly interactive, complex content, we are probably not there yet. Likewise, content that has risk or compliance issues definitely requires more rigour due to the dangers of propagating misinformation. In more dynamic environments such as call-centres or mobile workforces, it could be a reality. It would, however, require some critical success factors, along with a change in methodology.

The first must-have is a socially-savvy audience. I’ve seen many companies launch internal collaboration sites that quite frankly, bomb. The reasons are numerous. Sometimes, the culture is already deeply embedded with a risk mentality so few are willing to work loud. No one tweets in Pyongyang. In others, the social media literacy levels are quite low. This means that your feeds are filled with well-intentioned, but meaningless posts such as “#MondayMotivation: A hamburger never judges its worth based on number of sesame seeds on its bun – always be #authentic!” Okay, I made that one up, but the pain is real.

Yes, I know many will wave metrics in the air, like they just don’t care, to prove that people are indeed collaborating; 32 likes on a post about a Bake Sale is not building business results, only waistlines.

A socially-savvy audience means that the first reaction to an event is to share. You can build and coach this capability, but this post is not about that. My point is that this behaviour is critical to a rapid development process.

The second change is to lose the ego. Compare reporters twenty years ago to today: in a breaking news context in 2016, the media is relying heavily on content (videos, tweets, photos) produced by non-professionals. This is essentially what we would consider user-generated content in an L&D perspective, and it takes a leap to be comfortable with this. In L&D we like our theories and structure. When it comes to content that falls more on the spectrum of performance support such as a job aid or how-to video, we might be better to take an approach of simply collating and validating, even if the content is rougher than we would like.

Thirdly, be comfortable with a bit of mess. The Toronto Star did post an incorrect headline. Thankfully, the number of deceased was one, rather than three. This was easily corrected and communicated. In a dynamic environment, lengthy hesitation leaves a content vacuum. Too many L&D departments want a clear sign-off. Is the time delay for this oftentimes CYA exercise of benefit to the learner?

Consider the following scenario: A call centre begins to experience a rapid increase in call volumes. Employees begin sharing short posts on what they are hearing from customers. In this case, the company website is not accepting credit card purchases. One employee discovers that PayPal is still working and posts a work around. Based on this knowledge, L&D builds a quick job aid that is a script on how to explain the current issue with customers and offer resolutions. It is posted within an hour and call volumes return to normal.

Today events, good and bad, play out in real-time all around the world. And by bad, I’m talking to you Ryan Lochte. That hashtag dominated my Twitter feed for way. too. long. Still, these trends tell us what is important to our audiences and in the way they want to both consume and express it. A smart L&D department would be wise to listen.

That’s all for now – offer to quell a toddler tantrum kicking off in aisle 8.

LMS Distress

Last week, I posted the following on LinkedIn: “What I really, really, want, is an LMS that tracks more than just completions. I want stats like how long a learner spent on a page, what activities they skipped, or what they went back to review. Basically, how they really behave in a piece of digital content”. I also included the hashtag #nerd, because I figured not too many people would be interested in my musings.

I was surprisingly wrong. The post generated a great deal of discussion, which is something I love. It also created was a flood of connection requests. To date, I have had over 30 individual LMS companies reaching out to me to talk about their product. The sad truth is, I’m currently a consultant with literally bupkis for budget. It was completely my error not being transparent in my original post, for which I am sorry. Likewise, I am not complaining about the high volume of sales people reaching out – I get that LinkedIn is a big tool for lead prospecting; we all gotta eat.

What concerned me (and I do not use that term lightly) are the number of companies operating in this space. Yes, you all have good products, but they are often remarkably similar. This is harsh to say, but after looking at dozens of LMS company websites (almost all with a blue or green palette, featuring an apple or an owl, with some bar graphs for good measure) they start to blur together. Some are more innovative than others – a handful are using their data to lead to personalisation of content, which is great. Others are still tracking completions, but with fancier data dashboards. Sure, many of you will argue why you are unique, but consider this an individual observation from the consumer side.

Getting back to my concern: is this proliferation of learning tracking solutions fragmenting us? Does it prevent our industry from seeing the insights behind all of this data we are collecting as we operate in silos?

I asked my original question because I believe that we still do not fully understand how our learners consume digital content. Personally, I think we have a lot of mythology floating around out there. For example, whenever I have had the opportunity to watch someone engage with an eLearning module (that is not lock stepped), the completion of interactivities wanes after the first one or two. Yet, we continue to build them, like adding salt and pepper to a stew, because it is how we think eLearning should be built. Likewise, I have not seen millennials flocking to mobile learning in a corporate setting. When I probed on this topic, the response was overwhelming that their phones are personal and they will go to Instagram on the train home, rather than an LMS. Still, mobile learning is considered one of the biggest trends.

All of this is anecdotal and based on my individual experiences. It still leads me to my original quest – how do we decode learner digital body language?

Many of the comments were extremely helpful in describing ways to use SCORM and xAPI (thank you!). Unfortunately, I am not well-versed in the technical nuances of xAPI and quite frankly, I am not sure I could ever grow my skillset enough to be proficient enough (read: I’m thick). That said, it excites me to know that the concept of tracking learner behaviour on a micro level is out there.

Also, I do not think building this type of tracking at an individual level is going to propel L&D forward into maximising digital. To do this, I believe we need to begin to aggregate and share our insights from data. For a start, we create a set of learning specific metrics that are common across the industry. Metrics that go way beyond completions but focus on behaviours such as: interactivities ignored, content revisited, and videos skipped. I am thinking along the lines of the type of micro metrics say a YouTube collects to analyse digital content performance.

Once we have a standard set of metrics, this data can be shared, compared, and analysed, across industries and geographies to gain insights that go beyond an individual company view. You would then have the power to slice and dice data to better understand what will likely resonate with your audience. Building learning for a mining industry in South America? Segment this population out of the data and use the insights to make more informed design decisions, rather than guessing what will work. This means smarter and more efficient design, as well as more satisfied audiences.  

As a seasoned L&D professional, I am questioning more and more of what we consider good design practice in digital. I am losing confidence that what we serve up to our learners is what they really want. If we did, then the default search for content would be on an LMS, instead of on Google. I do not see that changing any time soon.

I truly believe that data is only way that L&D can truly crack digital content. There is, however, a reason why the term Big Data is used. The numbers need to be on a broad and wide scale. Operating as individual entities means that one only sees one picture at one time. This is akin to looking in the rear view mirror as you drive. What I want is a view from the windscreen. Data might be the way forward, if we can work collectively.